Sports Illustrated: Larry Bird not in the Conversation for Best Forward in NBA

December 1980


My tongue has been silenced (publicly, at least) for the past six weeks or so, or ever since I read the Sports Illustrated piece by John Papanek on the subject of Marques Johnson. This, you may recall, was the piece which attempted to settle the supposed dispute over whether Marques or Julius Erving was the preeminent forward in professional basketball today.

I have suffered in silence, mainly because until recently my candidate has not played up to his level. Ah, but now My Man has limbered up, and so will my mouth. Let it be said: I don't particularly care whether Marques Johnson or Julius Erving is better, since Larry Bird is better than either one.

My friend Papanek's piece only mentioned the existence of a Larry Bird twice. Once Papanek told of Johnson blowing by Bird for a dunk. And once Johnson himself mentioned Bird in glowing terms. And that was it on the subject of Larry Bird.

Does Mr. P realize that the only thing Johnson can do better than Bird is jump? Larry Bird shoots better, rebounds better - oh, does he rebound better - passes better and plays better defense. True, you can't run a pictorial essay of Bird's greatest dunks. True, Johnson is better looking. True, he is a better acrobat. But a better basketball player? Forget it.

Can Larry Bird guard Marques Johnson on the open floor? Not really. Can Marques Johnson guard Larry Bird? Not really. Does it matter? Only to those who refuse to learn what the game of basketball is all about. Players should be judged on what they do for their teammates to help form a better T-E-A-M. On that basis there are only three players involved in the discussion as the greatest, and the third is Magic Johnson.

It just bothers me that a story such as Papanek's on Johnson has a disproportionate influnce on people's thinking, since it is done in a national publication. I'll tell you this much: Nobody will ever convince me that if you got Don Nelson out on a mountaintop somewhere in Wyoming, far from downtown Milwaukee and thousands of prying ears, that he wouldn't admit how quickly he'd trade Marques Johnson for Larry Bird. Which doesn't mean Johnson is a salami. He's a helluva player, but he isn't any Larry Bird.

The Wonderful World of the Cavaliers rolls on. Bill Musselman raised eyebrows from Shaker Heights to Xenia last Saturday when he had Mack Calvin on the floor in the game's last minute. Little 'ol Mack had played four basketball games since last season, had arrived in town at 5 a.m., was about 20 pounds overweight and had run through the offense for only a brief period that very afternoon. Calvin also made an interesting statement, saying he was happy to be back in uniform so he could come closer to realizing his long- standing goal of coaching an NBA team. "He won't last long with Musselman," cracked one Cav observer. "That's the last thing he'll want to hear." Finally, the announced attendance of 5028 for the Celtic game was closer to a 2000 turnstile count. Owner Ted Stepien, of course, still insists that everything is fine and continues to denounce those who contend that the franchise isn't very solid.

What happened to Kevin Loughery? The basic story is Nets' principal owner Joe Taub, already unhappy with Kevin over the latter's request for some veteran help (Taub wants to go with kids), had begun to question Loughery's game strategy. They had a four-hour conference a week ago Friday, emerging with more, rather than fewer, differences. The eventual result was that Loughery was bought off to the tune of full salary for this season as well as the next two. Should Kevin land another job, he would be paid in full by the Nets through the end of the '81-'82 season, but not for the following year. That means Loughery is guaranteed his $140,000 for two years, which isn't half bad for the kid from Brooklyn . . . The word from the Coast is that if Jamaal Wilkes doesn't get into this season's All-Star Game, there is absolutely no justice . . . I wonder if this sudden Portland surge (12 of 13) will help Dr. Jack Ramsay change his mind about leaving after this season? . . . Clifford Ray advises fellow wine connoisseurs that the Napa/Sonoma valleys enjoyed their best harvest in 20 years. Ray owns a 17-acre vineyard in Sonoma County. There he produces pinot chardannay . . . And speaking of diversions, 76er assistant coach Jack McMahon sheepishly confesses that one of his hobbies is collecting telephone book covers.

Time Marches On Dept.: Gulp. This is the third year post-Havlicek, the fifth year post-Nelson, the 10th year post-Siggy, the 12th year post-Russell and post-Sam, the 14th year post-K.C., the 16th year post-Heinie and the 18th year post-Cooz. Yet how vivid are all those memories, and how irreplaceable have been their on-court personalities. Sometimes I wonder what non-sports fans reminisce about . . . After the Celtic game Tuesday, Doug Moe said, "If we play like this and keep up our intensity level, we'll make the playoffs. We can catch those other teams." Whereupon his Nuggets' team went down to Dallas and got beat in their next game.

From Houston coach Del Harris: "We can play offense with the upper echelon in this league. But until we develop a team conscience on defense we aren't going anywhere." . . . Red Holzman on defense: "It's hard to stop individuals in this league. But you must be able to stop them at certain times. A guy can get 30, but if you can stop him at certain big moments, you've done the job." He could have easily been talking about the 30-point game just authored by Ray Williams against the Celtics . . . The Nuggets traded Larry Bird's former Indiana State teammate Carl Nicks because, as GM Carl Scheer explains, "We didn't know exactly what he was and we needed a playmaker." The Jazz traded Billy McKinney because they needed a defensive player such as Nicks and because they feel Ricky Green can play in this league. Utah GM Frank Layden is hoping that Nicks will turn out to be a Ronnie Lee type, without the injuries.

Bill Fitch claims that Tiny Archibald has been entirely satisfactory this season. "He's playing as well or better than last year," Fitch says. "Game in and game out he's been doing the job. His lack of publicity is typical of the entire team, because we're not surprising people this year. What I really appreciate right now is the way he's thinking. He knows what we want, and I don't have to tell him things I told him last year because he already knows the situation. He is really doing an excellent job of lead passing on the break. About the the only thing I haven't liked are some of his retaliation' shots. The scouting reports still tell people to go to work on him defensively, but if he works at it he'll be all right." . . . The All-Star Game will be interesting since the best forwards (Bird, Erving, Marques Johnson, Dan Roundfield, Mike Mitchell, Bobby Jones, etc.) are mostly in the East, while the best guards (Dennis Johnson, Otis Birdsong, Norm Nixon, George Gervin, Lloyd Free, Walter Davis, etc.) are in the West . . . Happy New Year, Sam Siebert.


FLCeltsFan said...

Bird is without a doubt the greatest small forward in history. No question. No arguments. No discussion.

Lex said...


I think this was a Grampa Celtic piece

FLCeltsFan said...

Should have known :)

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